Meditation: the agony and the ecstacy

On the same day arrive news stories about two weird, and diametrically opposed, approaches to meditation.

On the one hand we have a man in Maine who has been charged for burning children with cigarettes as part of their meditation training. Adam Maguire was charged with two counts of domestic violence assault, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and violating conditions of release. Actually, this goes well beyond “weird” and into the “warped” category.

The Bangor Daily News reports that the police chief told them Maguire burned the children in their upper back and neck areas “in an attempt to show them pain compliance while meditating.” Apparently this was part of an attempt to help the children with their ADHD.

Lest anyone be unclear, this is not a normal part of meditation training, even for adults. Maguire will hopefully have plenty of time to meditate in a jail cell.

And at the other end of the hedonic spectrum, an outfit called OneTaste is running a workshop in Vegas on “Orgasmic Meditation.”

The one-day course will include:

  • The beginning philosophy behind OM
  • Introduction of a new definition of Orgasm — the difference between Climax and Orgasm
  • Live demonstration of the OMing Practice
  • Introduction to the 1’oclock spot
  • Basic Stroking Technique

OneTaste is at pains to emphasize that this is meditation.

“…it’s a meditation and practice, in the same way you might treat yoga or meditation or exercise. It’s meditation for orgasm, it’s the same every time you do it, but nothing else attached to it.”

And no strings!

“You agree to connect and feel what’s happening in your bodies for 15 minutes, talk about what you experienced, then go on your way. There’s no dating or having to go to coffee after or do anything other than what it is.”

There’s no mention of whether it’s OK for participants to have a cigarette after Orgasmic Meditation.

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Pakistan struggles with smuggled Buddhist relics

Sebastian Abbot, AP: Lacking the necessary cash and manpower, Pakistan is struggling to stem the flow of millions of dollars in ancient Buddhist artifacts that looters dig up in the country’s northwest and smuggle to collectors around the world.

The black market trade in smuggled antiquities is a global problem that some experts estimate is worth billions of dollars per year. The main targets are poor countries like Pakistan that possess a rich cultural heritage but don’t have the resources to protect it.

The illicit excavations rob Pakistan of an important potential source of tourism revenue, as valuable icons are spirited out of …

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Tibetan Lama cleared in cash inquiry, report says

wildmind meditation news

Associated Press: Indian authorities cleared one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most revered lamas on Friday in an investigation into $1.35 million in cash discovered last month at his headquarters in northern India, a news report said. Rajwant Sandhu, the top civil servant in Himachal Pradesh State, said the money found during a raid on the monastery of the Karmapa, above, Tibetan Buddhism’s third most important leader, had been donated by his followers, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The Karmapa had no links to the money…

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since the affairs of his trust are managed by his followers, Ms. Sandhu said. “The Karmapa is a revered religious leader of the Buddhists, and the government has no intentions to interfere in religious affairs of the Buddhists,” she said, according to the P.T.I. Last week, the state police said the Karmapa’s followers violated Indian tax and foreign currency laws in collecting the donations.


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Meditation class helps lower violence at Alabama prison

wildmind meditation news

Washington Post: Deep inside an overcrowded prison with a reputation for mayhem, convicted killers, robbers and rapists gather in a small room. Eyes closed, they sit silently with their thoughts and consciences.

Their everyday life is just outside in the hall – a cacophony of clanging steel doors, yelling and feet shuffling along cold concrete floors. The noise never really ends; peace is at a premium in Alabama’s toughest lockup.

Despite a history of violence at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, which is named for a slain corrections officer, the prison outside Birmingham has become the model for a meditation program that officials say helps inmates learn the self control and social skills they never got in the outside world.

Warden Gary Hetzel doesn’t fully understand how the program called Vipassana (which is pronounced vuh-‘POSH-uh-nuh) can transform violent inmates into calm men using contemplative Buddhist practices.

But Hetzel knows one thing.

“It works. We see a difference in the men and in the prison. It’s calmer,” he said of the course that about 10 percent of the prison’s inmates have completed.

The word Vipassana means “to see things as they really are,” which is also the goal of the intense 10-day program using the meditative technique that dates back 2,500 years.

Vipassana courses are held four times a year in a prison gymnasium, where as many as 40 inmates meditate 10 hours a day. Most sit on cushions on the floor, while a few use chairs.

The courses begin with three days of breathing exercises – the prisoners learn to focus on bodily sensations so intently they feel the exhalations on their upper lip. Students are required to not speak to each other.

Outside volunteers guide their way, along with recordings of chanting and instructions.

On Day 4, students are told to begin letting their deepest thoughts percolate up through their consciousness so they can sense the effects on the body, like tension or anger. The ultimate goal is to learn not to react to those sensations.

Students are forced to grapple with their innermost selves. Some men are brought to tears; a few have thrown up. It’s not unusual for half of the students or more to quit or be sent back to the prison population for disobeying the rules.

Those who finish come out changed, prison officials say.

Convicted murderer Grady Bankhead said the hours of meditation forced him to accept responsibility for his crime and helped him find inner peace. Bankhead, who’s serving life without parole, radiates calm.

“I’ve been here for 25 years and this statement is going to sound crazy, but I consider myself the luckiest man in the world,” Bankhead, 60, said last month after the latest course at Donaldson.

For Ronald McKeithen, Vipassana became a tool for controlling his actions.

“I had a lot of anger issues, and this has given me a way to deal with it,” said McKeithen, 48, serving life without parole for robbery. Eyes shut, his face is relaxed during a weekly meditation session for prisoners who finish the program.

Vipassana courses have been taught in Indian prisons for decades and began in 2002 at Donaldson. The program was temporarily shut down over concerns among some Christians that Vipassana was some sort of evangelical Buddhism – it’s not, teachers and prisoners insist – but it restarted in 2006.

“It’s medicine for the mind,” said Timothy Lewis, 45, serving life without parole for robbery and assault.

About 380 state inmates have completed a Vipassana course, said Dr. Ronald Cavanaugh, who brought the program to Donaldson while working there and is now treatment director for the Alabama Department of Corrections. It took him three years to convince administrators to allow the program and to find the space for it.

A Department of Corrections study of about 100 inmates who completed the program and were still in custody in late 2007 found they had 20 percent fewer disciplinary actions after the course, Cavanaugh said.

“The goal of Vipassana is to change one’s relationship to thoughts instead of changing the content of the thoughts,” said Cavanaugh. “You don’t need to act or react to thoughts. You can just observe them.”

Vipassana courses have been taught at a few other lockups in California, Massachusetts and Washington, but ended for reasons including space limitations, security concerns and funding. Donaldson is currently the only U.S. prison with the courses, but advocates are trying to get others interested, said Harry Snyder of the Vipassana Prison Trust. The trust pays for volunteers to travel to the prison and conduct courses.

John Gannon, executive director of the International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology, said he applauds Alabama’s efforts.

“Anything that helps to reduce impulsivity is likely to reduce recidivism … and that’s what the process is about as I understand it,” said Gannon, of Pismo Beach, Calif.

Baptists far outnumber Buddhists in Alabama, and state corrections officials deserve credit for their willingness to try the program, said Jenny Phillips, a Massachusetts psychotherapist who introduced Cavanaugh to Vipassana meditation.

Phillips wrote a book and produced a documentary movie about the Donaldson program called “The Dhamma Brothers,” which incorporates the Indian word that refers to the concept in Vipassana of gaining happiness through doing good for others. It’s an older, alternate spelling of the word “dharma,” which is used more often in popular culture.

“You can feel the energy when another Dhamma brother passes by you,” said Bankhead, an inmate leader of the program. “You can relax. It’s one person calming five or six.”

While the warden said Vipassana helps officers and administrators keep a lid on Donaldson, the lockup is still considered the state’s roughest. It’s the last stop for inmates with behavior problems, and more than one-third of its approximately 1,500 prisoners are either serving sentences of life without parole or are on death row.

A judge is currently considering a prisoner lawsuit that claims Donaldson is so crowded and violent it violates inmates’ constitutional rights. State officials don’t deny that Donaldson has problems, but they dispute that the lockup is unconstitutionally harsh.

An organization for corrections officers has taken the unusual step of siding with the inmates by agreeing with some of their claims about Donaldson, but no trial date is set.



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Meditation diet

Most Americans got their last glimpse of Bob Ney in 2006 when the powerful Ohio representative resigned his office and left Washington to begin a 30-month term in federal prison in Morgantown, W.Va. A player in the Jack Abramoff scandal, Ney was a disgraced Republican with a drinking problem and an expanding waistline.

Today, he has been reborn as a sober and slimmed-down follower of the Dalai Lama and is studying meditation techniques with Tibetan monks at a Buddhist temple in India.

Ney is spending his days in Dharamsala, trying to master the Tibetan language and eagerly awaiting the return of the Dalai Lama and the chance to hear more of the exiled religious leader’s teachings.

He has declined multiple opportunities to discuss how he wound up pleading guilty to conspiring to defraud the government and making false statements. Apart from making a few comments to a columnist for The Columbus Dispatch, he has kept to himself.

But this week, Ney talked by phone to National Journal for almost 70 minutes from the guesthouse where he is renting a room for $10 a day. (“You’ve got your own bathroom,” he said.) He discussed life on the rebound, the inner peace he has found in sobriety and meditation, and his work to help wounded veterans and the homeless.

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Lindsay Lohan ‘turns to Buddhism’

Lindsay Lohan is reportedly turning to Buddhism to get her through her spell in prison.

The 24-year-old actress was recently sentenced to 90 days in jail for violating the terms of her probation and it is claimed she is taking to the religion to help her get through the ordeal.

A source said to UK newspaper Daily Star: ‘Lindsay’s been fascinated in the Buddhist faith for a while, as several of her inner circle follow the teachings of Buddhism.

‘Lindsay’s devastated about the jail sentence, she has been crying non-stop. She’s been told to seek spiritual guidance and find her inner peace. She’s decided to study the art of meditation so she can stay calm through breathing techniques while she’s in jail.’

[via Monsters & Critics]
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For seven years, monks have had no peace

Vandalism has plagued a Buddhist temple near Rochester, Minnesota, for seven years. Neighbors and police are outraged and baffled.

A chorus of chirping crickets and the smashed shell of a mailbox greet Chhan Aun when he steps out the door of his monk’s residence at the hilltop Buddhist temple southeast of Rochester.

“We are quiet and peaceful; we try to pray for good things, not bad,” he said, wrapped in his orange robe, as a former monk translates his Cambodian words. “We don’t understand why people are doing things like this.”

This month’s busted mailbox is the latest in a seven-year string of vandalism that has jarred the four monks who live on the grassy, rolling, 10.5-acre site they chose for tranquil reflection.

Someone sprayed-painted “Jesus Saves” and a cross on their driveway last May. Dozens of lights have been broken and stolen. Flowers and trees have been yanked from the earth. Instead of studying the teachings of Buddha, the monks have been installing motion-detecting lights and asking the Postal Service to approve moving their mailbox down from 29th Street and closer to their house.

“One night at 2 a.m., a group of four or five people were outside and I shined my flashlight in their face,” said Aun, 63. “They never confront us face to face; they just run away.”

Neighbors and police are outraged and baffled at what would motivate the vandals to harass such gentle men, some of whom, including Aun, lived through the Cambodian genocide of the late-1970s Khmer Rouge killing fields.

“They believe in peace and tranquility, and they sure don’t deserve this,” said Glenda Bale, who moved into the quiet residential area in 2003, just as the temple construction was completed and the monks moved in next door from their former downtown location.

Back then, her place was an overgrown “jungle,” and as she worked to clear the lot, the monks would bring with food offerings. They invite Bale to all their celebrations.

Her friend’s unlocked car was broken into once and papers were scattered. The monks say they’ve been struck three or four times a year since they arrived.

“For this stuff to only happen to them is totally uncalled for,” said Bale, 47. “You couldn’t ask for better neighbors, honestly.”

Police cite six documented cases of criminal damage to property since last May, but the monks say the harassment dates to a group of aggressive opponents speaking out against the temple at city zoning meetings before the two temple structures were built. Opponents’ concerns about increased traffic congestion have proven to be completely unfounded, Bale said.

“We have absolutely no idea as to why these people are doing this,” said Sgt. Scott Behrns of the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Department. “We’re confident we’ll catch the people doing it; it’s just a matter of how long it takes.”

Deputies have stepped up patrols in the neighborhood, and if arrests are made, Behrns said prosecutors will be asked to use state laws that target bias-motivated crimes. That could mean elevating misdemeanor charges into gross misdemeanors or felonies.

“Based on the way the crimes are occurring, one would think it’s the same” person or people behind the vandalism, said Behrns, who thinks a baseball bat was used to destroy the mailbox earlier this month.

Community meeting slated

Rochester’s Buddhist Support Society serves roughly 500 people, mostly Cambodian refugees who fled during the Vietnam War era and emigrated to Minnesota. The group owns the temple and recruits monks from Cambodia who make minimum five-year commitments to study, pray and teach at the hilltop temple.

Aun said that the destroyed mailbox, in itself, is not a big deal.

“But if they try to set fire to our buildings or hurt the monks, that would make us upset,” he said.

He’s speaking out despite some concerns that the vandals will relish the publicity.

“We want to show the community that we are doing something,” he said. “It is 98 percent positive to get the word out and maybe two percent negative.”

About 20 concerned citizens, mostly members of Rochester Meditation Center, met at the temple last Sunday, and a larger meeting is scheduled for June 3 at 4 p.m. Members of Rochester’s Diversity Council, teenage youth groups, local church members and representatives of the police-sponsored Neighborhood Watch program will look for ways to enhance understanding about Buddhism and curb the vandalism.

Until then, Aun and his fellow monks will do what they came to Rochester to do. They will sit on pillows on the floor, surrounded by colorful paintings of Buddhist scenes, and recite prayers of loving kindness to the perpetrators of the vandalism.

“They know what they are doing is not right,” Aun said. “We will pray for them to do good things instead of bad.”

[Curt Brown, Star Tribune]
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Madison abuse victims use meditation as therapy

The cases of child abuse in the Madison area are increasing, and while some of the scars are evident, others aren’t not, officials said. This is the reason a local nonprofit has also been working quietly for almost three decades to help some of the most vulnerable victims heal.

The pain of child abuse can be locked away for years, resurfacing in troubling ways. That was starting to happen to 6-year-old Ian. His mother, Lulu Santiago, said she noticed something was wrong last year.

“He was scared about staying in his room by himself,” said Santiago. “He was just very sad. I asked him many times, ‘Ian, what happened at school?’ and ‘How was school?’ He was like, ‘Good,’ ‘I don’t know.'”

It was through his school that Santiago said she found out the truth. The news was devastating: Someone close to Ian abused him when he was 5 years old. Santiago said she didn’t want to share the details, fearing Ian’s progress would be affected, but she was determined to help her son heal.

She said she accepted a referral to the Rainbow Project in Madison.

“So many of the kids we see have lost ownership of their bodies, and a lot of times, it’s happened because someone or something in their life has directly assaulted their body,” said Jenny Bisswurm, child and family psychotherapist at the Rainbow Project Inc.

For the 30 years, the counseling and resource clinic has served children 10 and under, most of whom have experienced early childhood trauma.

“I truly, truly believe that they have the ability to heal within, and they have the spirit that it takes to do that,” said Bisswurm.

Bisswurm uses a combination of movement and yoga therapy to help abuse survivors heal. Ian’s weekly sessions start slow and simple with what is called “belly breathing.” It reduces muscle tension and blood pressure as it calms the body, according to Bisswurm.

“My mom is here. She is a safe person. I am safe in my body,” Bisswurm whispered to Ian during one of their sessions as he took deep breaths.

The hour-long session continued outside with yoga.

“We’re going to breathe in and put or arms out to the sky,” Bisswurm instructed. “[Grab] all the sun’s happy energy.”

The two then move on to one of Ian’s favorite poses, the warrior.

Back inside, Santiago joined in the therapy.

“Could you imagine it’s a really warm day?” asked Santiago as her son lay on the floor.

This type of therapy is becoming increasingly popular around the nation. While the approach isn’t for all children, Bisswurm said it works well for some, such as Ian.

“Kids will come in and be so proud that they didn’t get into an altercation at school because they used their breaths,” she said.

A new found happiness is a sign that Santiago, like many other children, is turning his pain into inner peace. Santiago said it took about six months, but Ian has made a tremendous improvement. She said he now smiles, has better self-esteem and is beginning to trust people again.

Suspected child abuse cases are increasing in Dane County. A little more than 4,000 cases were reported in 2008, officials said. But last year, the number jumped to nearly 5,200 cases — 1,000 more than the year before.

Officials said that the reasons for the increase include greater stress on parents or caregivers, unemployment and especially poverty, according to the Exchange Center, which works to prevent abuse.

The impact of that abuse on a child’s development is great.

“A child that lives in an environment that is very stressful with a lot of yelling and potentially abusive situations will be impacted on brain development. That child by somewhere between (ages) 3 and 5 will have a brain that is 20-30 percent smaller than a child that is in a healthy nurtured home,” said Jane Nemke, executive director at the Exchange Center.

There are things all parents, those affected by abuse and those not, can do at home to help open the lines of communication, according to the Rainbow Project. Even little things like brushing a child’s hair at night can make a huge difference.

[via Channel3000]
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Worcester Buddhist temple wins lawsuit against ex-leader

A jury has awarded $300,000 to a Buddhist temple on Dewey Street in a civil lawsuit accusing its former spiritual leader of wrongfully using its assets to buy a Braintree temple, which he later sold for $10 to a corporation he owns.

A Worcester Superior Court jury found Monday that Nam Thai, formerly a monk at the Pho Hien Buddhist Meditation Temple at 96 Dewey St., breached his fiduciary duty to the temple in 2001 when he used $65,000 of the congregation’s money as a down payment for a temple in Braintree called Samanta Bhadras Buddhist Center Inc.

Mr. Thai then secured a mortgage for the Braintree temple in the Worcester temple’s name and, in 2005, sold the Braintree temple for $10 to a corporation over which he had exclusive control, according to the 2007 lawsuit.

A jury found after a seven-day trial that Mr. Thai, a Buddhist monk who had been spiritual leader of the Worcester temple from 1995 to 2001, breached his fiduciary duty to the Worcester temple and that it suffered financial damages as a result. The jurors returned a verdict Monday awarding Vietnamese Buddhist Community of Massachusetts Pho Hien Buddhist Meditation Temple Corp., the charitable corporation that runs the Worcester temple, $300,000 in compensation for Mr. Thai’s actions.

The jury found that Mr. Thai, also known as Thich Thien Hue, did not commit fraud against the Worcester temple. Mr. Thai had denied any wrongdoing.

The plaintiff in the case was represented by Worcester lawyer Philip T. Soloperto. Boston lawyer Robert Carmel-Montes represented the defendant.

Judge Dennis J. Curran presided over the trial.

[via Worcester Telegram and Gazette]
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Spiritual guru completes police questioning, denies allegation

Jakarta Post: Spiritual guru Anand Krishna, reported by his former students for allegedly sexually harassing them, completed Monday a nine-hour questioning session with the police, again insisting he was not guilty in the case.

”[During the questioning], I clarified the misleading information the police obtained from their witnesses,” Anand said. “The accusations against me are wrong.”

Investigators from the city police’s women and children protection division began questioning Anand from 9 a.m. until 6:20 p.m.

Anand said the investigators had asked him to answer more than 70 questions, mostly directed to confirm testimonies from six witnesses the police had earlier questioned.

Anand is a well-known spiritualist who runs two schools in Jakarta and Bali .

The case began when Tara Pradipta Laksmi, 19, a former student of Anand’s meditation classes, reported the case to the police last month.

Tara said she was touched without her consent because she was hypnotized by Anand when the molestation took place, leaving her unable to refuse his advances.

As evidence, Tara’s lawyers submitted a video to the police showing Anand indoctrinating their client. The lawyers also presented offensive emails that Anand had allegedly sent her to the police.

Sumida, Anand’s former employee, and three other women made similar accusations against Anand.
Anand, however, repeatedly denied this accusation, saying that his center “only practiced meditation, not hypnosis.”

He also said he did not have a relation with Tara, although she shared her family problems with him. Earlier this month, Anand said that he met Tara after she joined L’Ayurveda, his holistic health and meditation center in 2007, while her mother had joined in 2000.

“From the end of 2008 to May 2009, Tara acted as L’Ayurveda’s youth coordinator,” he said. Anand said he did not believe there was an issue between him and Tara. However, when asked to elaborate, he told reporters to “ask Tara’s lawyers”.

After Monday’s questioning, Anand’s lawyer, Darwin Aritonang, said he felt certain the police would close the case. “There is no evidence that can prove our client is guilty of molestation,” he said.

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